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Is Kenya ready to deal with fake news during elections?

Is Kenya ready to deal with fake news during elections?

The Kenyan government has moved to reassure citizens and those watching the management of the upcoming general election that the internet will not be shutdown at any point in order to preserve the integrity of the poll.

This comes after the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) and National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) issued Guidelines on Prevention of Dissemination of Undesirable Bulk and Premium Rate Political Messages and Political Social Media Content via Electronic Communications Networks last week, raising concern among observers and participants.

Joe Mucheru, Cabinet Secretary for Information Communication and Technology (ICT) told private Kenyan television station NTV that Kenya's laws forbid a shutdown of the internet.

"We are not other (African) governments. We have gone through a very new constitution that Kenyans put in place, we have protected that constitution, we continue to implement the constitution - so why would we go against our constitution? I'm not sure why anybody (would) ask whether we should switch it off. At this stage it is not a discussion we have had and there is no reason for us to follow what other countries have done, unless there is something that I'm not aware of or that the government is not aware of that would lead us to switching off."

Mucheru said law enforcement agencies will only take action against individual offenders in implementing the guidelines.

"If we look at social media today, there are people who have already been spreading hate speech and all manner of things, but we deal with them individually because we have the capability of doing that. We don't have to shut down everything because one, two or three people are doing that. I think Kenyans generally have been responsible and they have continued to use the internet properly and our expectation is that that will continue."

The content guidelines apply to all MVNOs, CSPs and MNOs in Kenya as well as "other stakeholders such as Facebook, Bloggers, and other Social Media Services Providers among others" as stated in the formal document issued by the CA and NCIC.

Fake news impact

Efforts to regulate content on the web in Kenya comes soon after research presented by communications consultancy Portland and mobile surveying platform Geopoll which revealed that the deliberate dissemination of false information or 'fake news' in Kenya "can skew and influence election results."

The survey sampled 2,000 Kenyans across the country on their experience of fake news around coverage of the 2017 general election.

Steve Gutterman, CEO of GeoPoll says greater connectivity for Kenyans means that the mobile revolution is making an even greater impact on the sharing of information.

"Growing mobile connectivity and usage in Kenya means that phones are increasingly being used to consume news and information. With mobile surveying, we are able to collect deep insights from samples right across Kenya. Using the GeoPoll platform, this survey has provided us with rich data on how much of an issue (like) fake news is in Kenya and the impact it is having on how people access reliable information."

The survey found that social media is widely used by Kenyans of all ages to access and share news, with 49% of Kenyans using social platforms to secure general election news.

However, social media consistently ranks lower than traditional media on trust. Facebook and WhatsApp were found to be the most popular social media platforms for news, preferred overall by 46% and 25% of Kenyans respectively.


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